The new football season 1901/02
The fiery cross of the Association football world has been sent forth, and, where players have not already assembled to begin training for the season of 1901-2, they are under orders to make their way at once to their respective headquarters. This, of course, applies, to English teams, for in Scotland, where the season opens fifteen days earlier than ours, the teams have been practicing every evening for some time, notwithstanding the fact that many of them have kept in form by taking part in the five aside contests which, though illegal here, are very popular on the other side of the border. There are exceptions to the rule, but generally speaking the order for the English club player ran “Please report yourself without fail on or before August 1st .“ The idea, even where systematic training will not begin until a few days later, is to get the men together to avoid old time anxieties; and the manager, with the whip hand as a result of recent football legislation, is more than ever intent on having the obedience for which the club pays, though it is still true of him that few managers of big commercial undertakings have more care on his shoulders than is the case just now with the season before him.
What sort of a season is it going to be? The query is propounded with all the eagerness of yore, and is just as difficult to answer. Writing with the composition of all the leading teams before us we have no hesitation in saying that the play will maintain the level of past seasons, and is, as a matter of fact likely to rise above it in several important particulars. We have the impressions that the lessons of last season will lead to a quickening of the attack and to greater incisiveness near goal. It is coming to be realised that merely pretty tactics, whilst all very well for show purposes, do not pay, and the fact that Scotland has abandoned mere combination in favour of the dash introduced by players like Hamilton and McColl, emphasised as it was by the lessons of the English Cup ties and final, has driven home the idea. If the change does come it will greatly alter the character of the back play, and call for more speed and more cleverness and quickness in recovery – a point which should cause managers with backs who are losing speed and gathering weight to seriously consider their position, though, to be fair to the said managers, it is much easier to realise a need in this respect than to secure just the man who will fill it.
Of course, the dashing style of play has this great drawback – it takes more out of the men, and the question has yet to be answered whether it will serve in League football as it has stood the test in cup-tie and international play. As a rule, however, the clubs are preparing for this by big lists of players, and few of them have been more content to rely on less than two men for each position, whilst some, like Aston Villa, have as many as 27 or 28. We do not suggest that the clubs have two elevens, each practically as strong as the other. Such an ideal state of affairs is difficult of realisation, because no first class man cares, even inferentially, to play second fiddle to another. As James Ross put it when the transfer question was yet unsolved, it is the spirit which, despite the wages that can be offered, keeps the crack clubs from securing all the best players. Still, it is felt that the policy of securing, say, thirteen men, and a couple of class reserves, will no longer suffice, and we imagine there are more men men retained on full play than has ever been the case before, whilst there is yet going on a most serious quest for younger men who happen to be speedy as well as well-built – desiderata not met with in every case.
If there is a quickening of play forward there will have to be a corresponding development in defensive play or, rather, an alteration in style, for it must be remembered that what the forward gains by increased dash he often loses in want of accuracy; and whilst increased speed is very desirable in the backs and half backs, where it can be secured, it is possible that any change may be met by a further recourse on the part of defenders to combined tactics calculated to enable those who hold what military men call “inferior lines” to take full advantage of them. The Sunderland men developed this idea perhaps more than did any other of the crack teams last season; but the Bury players at their best have had resource to it, as have Aston Villa, when able to get Spencer and Evans in their places, with the usual half back line. It is rather strange that the idea has not been much more often in evidence seeing that it dates back to the Brothers Walters; but alterations of the rules and methods of attack have had something to do with this.
Reference to possibilities in regard to improved methods of attack and defence – and they are by no means based on theory, for the fact that the Scottish season opens much earlier than ours and hence that practice must begin earlier has shown that teams capable of speed are likely to at least try what the departure will do – brings us to the fact that owing to the last meeting of the International Board at least one player will stand on the field under new conditions. We refer to the goalkeeper who, whereas he could not be charged last season, unless he actually had the ball in his hands, may now be charged if for any reason he crosses the line of the six yard’s semi circle. Many practical footballers regard the change as a bit of gratuitous retrogression more likely to lead to mistakes than anything else. But the changes is there, and will have to be reckoned with, both in attack and defence. Forwards are sure to lose no chance of attempting to floor the custodian if he gets beyond his arbitrary line of defence, whilst the backs and half backs will have to remember they can no longer leave the custodian to take care of himself when he ventures to dash out from goal. The alteration does not at first sight seem to be a momentous one; but it is just the sort of thing to bother, especially the defenders, until the players have accustomed themselves to the change and to modify play near goal even when they have done so.
The other alterations in the rules only have reference to the penalty kick, the International Board having ruled that intentionally jumping at a man within the twelve yards line carries with it the full penalty. The list penalisable under this head is now tripping, charging from behind, pushing, jumping at an opponent, holding an opposing player, and wildfully handling the ball. The essence of the offence is in each case the intention, and spectators will do well to remember that in the case of tripping or handling within the twelve yard line it is either a penalty or nothing, neither being an offence when the outcome of accident. It is thought the addition of jumping at an opponent to the offence for which a penalty ick may be given will have a serious effect on the play of certain teams, the winners of the English Cup of last season often having recourse to it, whilst players identified with Aston Villa, Liverpool, Sunderland, and Bolton Wanderers will have to alter their style if they are not to come under the ban of the law. It is said that the fact of players being unfairly stopped by the jumping trick in one of last season’s big games was the deciding factor in the alteration.
So far as can be made out from the teams as they appear on paper the levelling-up process has been largely in evidence, and though it would be impossible to have much keener fights than we had lasts eason for the championship on the one hand or the avoidance of exclusion on the other, it may safely be said the two struggles will be as keenly strenuous as ever. Admitting that teams as they appear on paper are little to go by – because a man who is brilliant with one eleven is not necessarily so with another, as Everton supporters have reason to know we judge that there will be less difference than ever between the playing form of the strongest and the weakest in the first division, and that the chance breakdown of a crack player or two, as with Notts Forest last season, and as with Preston North End, too, may make all the difference. Both the new comers in the first division, and especially Grimsby, are powerful teams; whilst we think the second division is stronger than ever, and the question of promotion much more open to doubt than was the case when last season opened.
Inquiries amongst club managers and those who move about in connection with the League do not suggest that much has been saved by the clubs owing to the maximum wages rule. Speaking generally the clubs who could best afford to pay have saved most. That is only another way of saying that the rule is answering its purpose of preventing the people with the money enticing players away by fine sheer weight of their offers, and the effect is noticeable in the case of a team like Aston Villa, whose “captures” are anything but eye openers, and who have several times been beaten by much less wealthy organisations in their quest for players. It is thought there will be a substantial saving all around on the no-bonus rule, but while there is a general concensus of opinion that the offers of bonus were wrong in principle, and often amounted to throwing the apple of discord into the teams, there is a feeling of uncertainty as to the effect it will have on the play of the teams. Some think it will make play less strenuous, because all will start from the same mark; but others think that, so far from this being a loss in point of play, it will only do away with a lot of aimless “bashing.” Time only will show which view is right, but players who habitually refrain from doing their best are likely to be the first – and perhaps last, too – to suffer.
Copyright - Manchester Evening News, 02-08-1901